|posted on 15-Dec-2002 6:28:24 PM|
|Okay, I promised some of my friends on here that I'd talk to April and talk her into posting a preview of Death of the Oleander since I loved it so much. She reluctantly agreed after I told her that she needed the exposure as a budding author, so here it is!! Enjoy!!|
Michael steered Centra in the direction of the water. They climbed over countless hills and galloped along through narrow valleys and wide, vast fields. The sound eventually grew louder and louder until it flooded all of Michael’s senses. He could hear it, and it seemed like he could taste it. He could smell it as he approached, and he felt it as little sprays of water hit him.
And now, he could see it. It was the most beautiful waterfall he had ever seen. It reminded him of the things you heard about, but never really got to see. He had never thought of Lake Mirron as extremely beautiful, but now, he thought differently. This waterfall far surpassed even the beauty of the garden. The garden, though it was incredibly beautiful, was man-made. This, though, this was natural.
Michael couldn’t believe that he hadn’t ever known about this. He had lived on Antar all his life, and he still hadn’t known about this.
Then, he heard something else. It was faint, at first, but then grew in audibility until he could hear it clearly. It was music, but not the kind that he was used to hearing. It wasn’t the stupid ballroom music that had been playing at Lieutenant Creoles’s party, or Max’s either. In fact, it wasn’t ballroom music at all. It was some other sort of music entirely, something that Michael had never heard in his life. There were voices singing, too, along with the music. Sometimes, they were screaming, sometimes they were singing, and sometimes they were speaking so fast that Michael could not make out what they were saying.
Michael dismounted Centra and tied her up to a nearby branch. He went on foot then, towards the alluring sound, stumbling on rocks and branches on the way. He peeked around the corner then, and saw a girl. She was dancing, and something was sitting on the ground. It looked like a record player. The players were very expensive, and, judging by her clothes, Michael guessed she was a peasant. He wondered how a peasant girl could afford a record player, but pushed the thought out of his mind when he noticed the way she was dancing. He had never seen dancing like this before. She was moving in time with the music, but she didn’t have a partner, and there was something almost provocative about her movements. Everything looked so free and expressive. Her feet mainly stayed in one place while her hips shook from side to side and her arms floated around in the air in graceful movements.
He wanted to get closer. He needed to find out about this dancing. What was it? How was this girl doing it? And who was this girl anyway?
Michael accidently stepped on a twig and it snapped. The girl spun around, surprised, shocked, and scared, and clutched her hands to her chest when she saw him. She exhaled deeply and turned off the music.
“Maria?” he asked, though he knew it was her. He came out of hiding and stood up straight. “What are you doing out here?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She seemed somewhat embarrassed that he had caught her dancing like that.
“That was good.” he told her. “In fact, that was great.”
“What?” Maria didn’t seem to get where he was going.
“Your dancing.” he told her, motioning with his hand towards the record player sitting on the rocks. “I liked it.”
She chuckled and shook her head. “I can’t dance.” she told him. “Not the way you dance.”
“What do you mean?” Now he was the one who didn’t understand. The way he danced? He didn’t dance!
“You guys do all of that fancy ballroom dancing.” she said. “It’s so graceful.”
Michael grunted. “Ballroom dancing sucks.” he told her. “I hate it. Every party I go to, it’s always ballroom dancing. Every palace, every manor has a ballroom, and it drives me insane.”
“Do you dance?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “Nope. I hate it.”
“You hate dancing?” She asked in horror. “How can you hate something so beautiful and expressive?”
“I don’t hate dancing.” he told her. “I hate ballroom dancing. Now, the kind of dancing you were doing . . .” He paused to gather up the right words. He couldn’t think of the right words to describe what he had seen. “That was awesome.” he told her simply.
She laughed. “No, it wasn’t.” she said.
“Yes, it was.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Yes, it was.” The argument continued like this for awhile until Michael gave up. “I forfeit.” he said, sitting down on the rocky ground and looked out towards the waterfall. “It’s not my fault that you don’t believe me.”
Maria blushed and sat down beside him. He really liked that she was growing more and more comfortable around him. Most people, even if they had known him for a long time, still trembled in his presence. Maria had known him for about a day, and she seemed completely comfortable and at ease around him. That was something that many people were not able to master.
“So, how could you afford that record player?” Michael asked. He didn’t want to be rude, so he apologized immediately. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just that they’re really expensive and . . .”
“I know what you mean.” she told him. “Actually, my friend Liz and I both saved up money for it. It came with, like, three records for free.”
“Oh.” He understood now, but there was still another question he had to ask. “What kind of music is that, anyway?”
“Well, to everyone that you know, it’s probably crap, and that’s why they gave it to me free, but it’s more commonly known by my people as rock.”
“Rock.” Michael echoed. “I’ve never heard rock before. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve never heard rock. All I’ve heard is that ballroom shit.”
Maria laughed. “Well, you’ve been missing out.” she told him, tucking a stray strand of her golden, blonde hair behind her ear. “Rock’s the best. Rock rocks.”
Michael laughed again. “Yeah, it does.” he agreed.
“I come out here to dance a lot.” Maria told him, gazing out at the massive waterfall in front of them. “It’s so peaceful and beautiful and quite. Most of the time, no one interrupts me.”
“Sorry.” he apologized.
“Don’t be.” she told him. “I’m glad you came. It can get pretty lonely out here all alone at times, too.”
“I understand.” Michael thought back to Lieutenant Creoles’s party. He had been surrounded by people, yet he had still felt completely and utterly alone. He had danced with that woman, and yet he had not been with her. They had not been together, they had remained two separate entities.
“So, why are you here, anyway?” Maria asked him.
“I just stumbled upon this place.” he explained. “First I heard the waterfall, then I heard your music, then I saw your dancing.”
“But, why did you leave the party in the first place? Isn’t your fiancé still there?”
Michael nodded. “Yeah, but she can handle herself.” He picked up a rock and through it out into the water. It created many sets of tiny ripples as it bounced. Michael had always liked skipping rocks as a young boy. He had told his father that it helped him practice his aim, but secretly, he did it for fun.
“Lieutenant Creoles can’t throw a decent party for shit.” Michael told her, answering her question at last.
She visibly stiffened and seemed to freeze in place. Her eyes were still locked on the waterfall in front of her, and her hand were still at her sides. The only sign of movement from her was her hair as the wind rifled through it. She didn’t even look like she was breathing.
“Creoles?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Michael replied. “Carl Creoles. Major Jack Creoles’s son. You know Jack Creoles, right? He died in that chariot accident a few years ago?”
Maria nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I know him.” she said. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears threatening to leak over, but she didn’t allow them that satisfaction.
“Maria, what is it?” Michael asked.
She lost the dazed expression and her body relaxed again. “Nothing.” she replied. She stood up and brushed the dirt from her butt, and wrapped her arms around herself, although it wasn’t very cold out at all. The rain had actually seemed to make it warmer.
But Michael could still sense that something was wrong. The moment he had said Creoles, Maria had shifted into combat mode.
“Do you want me to take you home?” he asked her. “My horses is right over there . . .”
“No!” she almost shouted. “I mean, no. I’ll just walk.” She bent down and picked up the portable record player, and Michael noticed that her fingers were shaking.
“Maria,” he said, standing up. He grabbed her shoulders and turned her to face him and saw streaks of water running down her cheeks in the forms of tears. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Get your hands off of me!” she shrieked, swatting his hands away. She totally forgot about the player and went running across the rocks. Before Michael could go after her, she had fallen over a stick onto her hands and knees. “Ow,” she moaned. He could hear her crying now, her breath coming in deep, ragged pants. He neared her slowly, not sure what to do. He didn’t have the greatest people skills. He was a warrior, not a nurse. He didn’t want her to run away from him again.
“Maria,” he said, kneeling down beside her. “Let me help you.” He reached out a hand, but she swatted him away again.
“I said don’t touch me!” she reminded him.
Michael threw his hands up in front of himself and backed away a little. “Okay, okay,” he said. “I won’t touch you.” He watched helplessly as she tried to get herself to her feet and then looked in horror at her hands, which were cut up. The flesh was torn, and blood poured from the wounds. Her knees, too, were red and looked incredibly sore.
“Maria, let me take you to my nurse.” Michael suggested. “She’ll help you.” Michael knew that the peasants didn’t have a very good nurse to take care of them, and the supplies she had were limited. The nurse for the royals was very skilled and could take care of anything in a matter of seconds.
She shook her head. “I’m fine.” she told him.
“Obviously, you’re not.” Michael stood up, as well, but he made no effort to move closer to her. He knew she didn’t want that.
After a minute of silence, she seemed to calm down a little. He didn’t want to push her, but he also wanted to know what was going on. Maybe he could help her. “Maria,” he whispered. He wasn’t sure if she had heard him, for his voice seemed to blend with the waterfall. “You can tell me.”
She wrapped her arms around herself again, the blood from her hands smearing on her skin. “I . . . I . . .” she stuttered. “I’ve never told anybody this before. Not even Liz.” She made no effort to turn around and look him in the eyes. She took a few steps forward, and Michael was prepared to run after her in case she ran off, but she didn’t. “When I was younger,” she began. “I was assigned to be Major Jack Creoles’s assistant. I was really excited about it, because he was always so nice to me, even though he wasn’t that nice to anyone else. He lived in such a nice manor, and I knew I’d get paid really good if I did a good job.
“It started out that way. Everything was fine. The Major didn’t really make me do a ton of work, so I came home with lots of money and a smile on my face. But, one day, I addressed him as Jack instead of Major Creoles. I didn’t think he’d care. I didn’t think he’d mind, but . . .” She hesitated, then continued. “He did. He yelled at me. He called me things that I had never been called, and some of them, I didn’t even know what they meant. He told me that I was not to address him as Jack unless I was instructed to. He told me I’d have to be punished.”
Michael shivered, suddenly feeling cold.
Maria’s voice broke as she talked, and she began to cry again. “He tried . . .” she stammered. “He tried to . . . to rape me! He threw me down on his bed and pinned my wrists down with his hands. I knew I was no match for him. I thought about just giving in and letting him do what he wanted, but then he told me that I was worthless, that to everyone worth something on the planet, I was just vapor. A waste of space. So I kicked him really hard and managed to get away.” She wiped a tear away from her cheek.
Michael couldn’t believe it. He had never thought that Major Creoles would do something like that. The guy hadn’t exactly been nice to the peasants, but . . .
“How did you avoid him?” he asked.
“I went to the laundry building instead of his manor.” she explained. “If I saw him on the street, I ran the other way before he would notice me. He died a few days later.” She was still standing with her back to him, so he had no idea how much she was crying.
“Did you tell anyone?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I had no one to tell. Liz was just a little girl herself, and my parents were dead.”
“I’m sorry.” Michael said. He had no idea that Maria had had such a troubled life. Of course, he had known that she was a peasant, and no peasants really had a good life, but this . . . this was awful.
“Besides,” she continued. “I was just a peasant girl. He was a Major. Who would they have believed?”
Michael saw her point. Anyone she told that could have actually managed to help her would have believe the Major over her any day. “You could have come to me.” he told her.
She spun around to face him at this. Fear was showing in her eyes, mixed with sadness, stress, and the crystal clear tears that had spilled over the rims only minutes earlier. “I couldn’t go to you, Michael!” she told him exasperatedly. “You were still a boy! You were still in training! You barely knew how to hold a sword! I couldn’t go to you! You wouldn’t have been able to do anything for me, either!”
Michael nodded in agreement. He wished he could have done something for her. Anything. The experience had clearly affected her.
“I just wish I could make it go away.” she cried. “Everything. All of it. The feel of his hands on me, the sound of his voice, the look in his eyes.” She ran her tear-soaked fingers through her hair. “I’ve been living with this for years,” she said, “and I’ve never told anyone until now. And all of this time, it’s been haunting me.”
Michael felt his heart drop for her. She was too good of a person to have that happen to her. She didn’t deserve it. Any of it. He hoped Jack Creoles was rotting away in hell for what he had and was putting her through.
She looked up at him and met his gaze then, the tears in her eyes shimmering and reflecting the moonlight. There was a long silence between the two of them where Michael didn’t know what to do, and where she didn’t seem to want to do anything, and then she ran to him, careful not to fall on the rocks, and threw herself in his arms. He held onto her tightly and whispered in her ear while she cried.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “It’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.” He stroked the back of her head with his hands and pressed his warmer, larger body against her colder, smaller one, and let her tears soak through his shirt and onto his skin.
“Michael,” she cried through sobs.
“Shhh,” he repeated. “It’s okay.”
They stood like that for what seemed like forever, but it was only a minute, if that. This girl, who Michael barely knew, was literally clinging to him for support, and Michael was reminded of that feeling that he had gotten up the morning before the last. He hadn’t thought much about it until now, but now, that feeling was coming back, and he only now realized why he had felt so different that morning. He had met Maria DeLuca, and he now had the opportunity to make her life better, and do something worthy with his, for he was going to show her that she was worth more than she had been to Major Creoles. He would make sure of it.
Wanting to read more and find out what happens with Michael and Maria? Visit www.roswelldesertskies.com/mm.html and look under April's name to read all of Death of the Oleander, the most AMAZING fic I've ever read!! Please, post any feedback of any kind on here, but try not to be too harsh!!